University holds off on global program

The University put the brakes on launching what was touted as a flagship piece of its global strategy: an undergraduate program that would have taken students to three continents.

Provost Steven Lerman said Wednesday that GW would hold off the program, which was set to start in fall 2014, because administrators had not planned admissions recruitment or decided how to share revenue with its partner universities in China and France.

The delay, which Lerman said would last about a year if administrators regained confidence in the program, may be a setback as GW looks to elevate its international focus and as universities nationwide race to globalize. Administrators had also targeted the program as an engine for revenue growth.

Lerman, GW’s second-in-command, maintained that the University was not punting the program, but wanted to make sure GW had the “uncertainty and risk under control.”

“There’s just enough complicated legal and other pieces that we just have to make sure we know what we’re doing,” he said. “We felt it was wiser to wait and just make sure we had annulled those uncertainties.”

Top officials in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, including Dean Peg Barratt, traveled this year to help piece the program together with French university Sciences Po and Renmin University in China.

Now, the program will spill over to the top of the agenda for Ben Vinson, the incoming dean of the Columbian College, who will come from Johns Hopkins University in August.

The program, designed for economics and political science majors, is relatively unique – part of the appeal for GW officials, as the University looks to carve out a global niche.

Barratt said the program remained a good idea, despite the setback.

“Having students study on three continents remains a good idea, and the specifics for implementation will be reconsidered in the fall,” she said in an email through a spokeswoman.

The University of Southern California business school will launch a similar program this fall in Los Angeles, Milan and Hong Kong, but administrators and experts have said that GW would be one of the first to offer a degree that takes students to three continents.

But that has also caused growing pains in launching the program.

Lerman said the Office of Admissions has “no track record recruiting” students who may be interested in the program, like those who have spent time in English-language international schools.

The University also had not determined how to secure visas or health insurance for students in all three countries.

Dan Ullman, the Columbian College’s associate dean for undergraduate studies, also said last month that the University had not figured out how to work students into the District-imposed enrollment cap, which limits the number of students who can take classes on the Foggy Bottom Campus.

Karin Fischer, a senior reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education, said financial deals are often the trickiest between international universities.

While international universities are typically able to forge dual-degree deals, she called GW’s aim to serve as the sole degree-granting university “a complicated model.”

“These programs are very complex. Anytime you’re working with a foreign university, anytime you’re sharing academic credit, that’s complicated,” she said.

The University has tried to build up its international arsenal in recent years, growing its base of Chinese students exponentially, starting a graduate finance program there and beginning to recruit more in the Middle East.

GW will also target doubling its international student population and creating stronger study abroad programs in its decade-long strategic plan, which will be finalized in May.

Some of the schools that GW calls its peers – including New York University – have already aggressively globalized, propping up campuses in Abu Dhabi and Shanghai. Lerman said these programs would become a bigger part of universities’ offerings.

“I think it is the direction of the future,” he said. “But each one has to be crafted and each relationship is going to be unique. There’s no sort of central clearing house or well-established formulas yet for these sort of arrangements. They’re all too new.”

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